Tag Archives: ritual

1990-2015: FAMIC Survey On Preferences For Cremation And Funeral Services

Study Of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization And Memorialization was begun in 1989 as a joint project of numerous funeral/cemetery industry organizations under the umbrella of the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC). The first survey was conducted in 1990 by Wirthlin Worldwide and results were published in 1991, with followups by Wirthlin and then Harris Interactive about every 4-5 years since. The study’s purpose has been to gauge consumer attitudes about the industry as a whole, about the people who work in the industry, and about “ritualization and memorialization” services and products.1 In the early years of the survey, I believe showing changes in consumer attitudes was a primary emphasis of the reports. Recently, however, as I explained in the previous post, in recent FAMIC reports, historical data are not included for certain questions and information on related trends has thus vanished.

But by pulling data from several FAMIC reports we can still find useful information on how consumer opinions about funeral practices have changed as cremation becomes more prevalent.

Subjects: US adults in geographic, gender, and ethnic proportions intended to represent the general population. 1990: 1000 (635 age 40+); 1995: 1001 (584 age 40+); 1999: 1002 (615 age 40+); 2004: 961 (961 age 40+); 2010: 858 (507 age 40+); 2015: 1543 (1238 age 40+). Oversampling of several ethnic groups was conducted to collect data on certain questions. For sets of questions that qualified the respondent, such as “Were you involved in selecting a provider?” the number of valid responses to subsequent items may have been fewer than the total participants because only those who said “yes” to the first would have been asked. The method of the survey changed in 2015 when it was brought online; in previous years subjects were interviewed by telephone.2

Main findings

Between 1990 and 2015, as measured in the FAMIC studies, consumer sentiment regarding cremation has changed 180 degrees from negative to positive—from 61 precent unfavorable to 65 percent favorable.

Evidence for the reversal is most telling in the reasons people now give for choosing cremation: whereas in 1990 there were a couple of main rationales centered on the financial and land-saving advantages of cremation, now there are many. This indicates a tradition so familiar that consumers now see many advantages in it.

Respondents continue to feel very favorably about the people working in the funeral business, and most say they would not want to change anything about the funeral experience. However, perceptions of the value of funeral ceremonies have declined somewhat.

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How Cremation Is Changing Funerals

The next few posts are going to be about cremation and its effect on American funeral rituals, with data showing how we are changing our funeral practices (and how things may continue to change in the future). To kick off this discussion, here is a very brief capsule overview of why cremation is an important topic:

Cremation has changed the way Americans do funeral rituals. The changes could be summed up under the general category of “short cuts.” There are two main areas of these ritual efficiencies, which the previous reviews of research studies have dealt with in part, but which I am going to address in more depth in this and upcoming posts.

First, cremation allows survivors flexibility in holding ceremonies, because they can have the body cremated and then not have to plan the ceremony according to any set schedule. Apart from being cremated, the body of a deceased loved one can’t really be left around for very long: according to the twentieth-century funeral model, the entire process of preparing the body for viewing, holding the ceremonies, and getting the body to the cemetery was only a window of a few days to a week at most. The funeral home had to do almost everything, and the family and other survivors had to work mostly within the funeral home’s time frame. With cremation, the family can take the few steps needed to have the body cremated, and then they can do anything they want, whenever they want. They never have to go back to the funeral home again.

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2011: Cremation Ash Disposition Without Tradition

What Now? Cremation Without Tradition examined the experiences of people who planned, and conducted or participated in, ceremonies for someone who was cremated, with special focus on what they did with the ashes and how the experiences benefited the participants. The cases reflected the current trend in which the former authorities—funeral directors or clergy—have diminished roles or no roles at all. “How to create a ceremony from scratch” may become a widespread matter of interest for homegrown funeral planners in the next decade. Customers may still choose traditional ceremonies and burial of the remains. But more often they are going in a different direction. People who created ad hoc rituals for ash disposition can teach us something about different options for ceremonial treatment of ashes, and also about what makes “ritual,” in the generic sense of the word, work.1

Subjects: 56 adults, ages 20 to 85, average age = 44.3, “who were actively involved in cremation and ash disposition decisions.” 40 were females and 16 males. They described a total of 87 cremation ritual events—78 humans and 9 dogs. Most were current or former residents of California.

Main findings

Over 80% of the respondents said the personalized rituals they created were positive experiences, even when things did not go smoothly.

The act of ritualization came naturally to participants who had begun with no idea of what to do, and even though “Americans were quite aware that they were making things up,” the ceremonies were perceived as meaningful.

About 21% of the cases were buried at a cemetery, or were going to be buried, in whole or in part. Most of these were spouses interred to join a spouse who had already died.

Most subjects believed that scattering was what they were supposed to do with the ashes. Those who did not scatter, without prompting, explained why they had not done so.

Study detail

When someone dies, there are now many options for how to dispose of a loved one’s body, what kind of ceremonies to have, what kind of permanent memorial to have, or whether to have anything at all. Some people will their bodies to “science” and that is the end of it. Some bodies are cremated but no one ever picks up the ashes. For some, there is a funeral with embalming and viewing, and the body is interred at a cemetery after the cremation. In most cases, the only real requirement is that the body be removed from the space of the living, for which there are a limited number of allowed choices, and beyond that anything goes.

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1986: Differences Between Burial And Cremation Arrangements

Differences In Final Arrangements Between Burial And Cremation As The Method Of Body Disposition examined the funeral and burial arrangements selected by a national sample of customers who chose cremation as the form of bodily disposition, compared to choices made by customers selecting whole-body burial. The project produced interesting results, and is notable for focusing on funeral purchases, which is a rarely-studied topic, as well as for its target audience. Working under the sponsorship of the funeral industry, the researchers were able to collect data from funeral home and crematory customers who were next of kin or very close survivors, whose ages were typical of such customers—which is not often possible for research into funeral practices.1

Subjects: 703 adults who were either next of kin or the closest survivor of people whose arrangements were handled by funeral homes and crematoriums in the cities listed here within the previous 10 to 30 months. Respondents were: 496 females, average age 58.7 years; 207 males, average age 60 years. 470 were bereaved of people who were cremated, and 233 of people buried. Subjects were in six metropolitan areas: Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, California; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; and Seattle, Washington.

Main findings

Nearly 40% of cremation cases were accompanied by no ceremony at all (19.8%), or a memorial service at a later date (18.7%).

Only 36.4% of cremation dispositions were followed by a social gathering, versus 62.7% of whole-body burials.

Over 57% of cremated remains were either buried (40.4%) or placed in a niche (16.8%).

Neither saving money, nor saving land, nor convenience were cited more as reasons for making the choice of cremation than for the choice for whole-body burial.

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